James v. Board of Educ. of Aptakisic-Tripp, Case No. 07-cv-7018.

Citation642 F.Supp.2d 804
Decision Date22 July 2009
Docket NumberCase No. 07-cv-7018.
PartiesJAMES and Lee Anne D., Individually and as Next Friends of Sarah D., a Minor, Plaintiffs v. BOARD OF EDUCATION OF APTAKISIC-TRIPP COMMUNITY CONSOLIDATED SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 102, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Illinois

Matthew David Cohen, Courtney N. Stillman, Monahan & Cohen, Chicago, IL, for Plaintiffs.

Jay R. Kraning, Debra Hillary Kaplan, Robert Edmund Swain, Hodges, Loizzi, Eisenhammer, Rodick & Kohn, Arlington Heights, IL, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

ROBERT M. DOW, JR., District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment [53] and Defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment [57]. Plaintiffs, James and Lee Anne D., individually and as next friends of their minor daughter, Sarah D., bring this Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA") suit, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400-1491, against the Board of Education of Aptakisic-Tripp Community Consolidated School District No. 102 ("District"). Plaintiffs are appealing an administrative decision, issued by an Impartial Hearing Officer ("IHO"), finding that the District complied with the IDEA, and denying Plaintiffs' request for reimbursement for the cost of tuition at a private special education school. The cross-motions have been fully briefed. For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment and grants the District's motion for summary judgment.

I. Factual Background1

Sarah is ten year old girl who has severe developmental dyslexia, a learning disorder that makes it difficult for her to learn to read. Def. Resp. Pl. SOF ¶¶ 4, 5. She is eligible for special education as a student with a learning disability and a speech-language impairment. Id. ¶ 5. Sarah attended Pritchett Elementary School ("Pritchett"), which is operated by the Defendant District, from kindergarten through the third grade. Pl. Resp. Def. SOF ¶ 6.

Sarah began receiving special education instruction at Pritchett in the first grade (2004-2005), at which time she received 800 minutes of special education instruction per week. Def. Resp. Pl. SOF ¶ 15. At the end of Sarah's first grade year, the District recommended that Sarah enroll in extended school year services ("ESY") for the summer to prevent regression. Pl. Resp. Def. SOF ¶ 26. Sarah's parents declined to enroll her in ESY at the District; instead, Sarah had private tutoring during the summer between her first and second grade years. AR 2012-13; 2649-50.

In second grade (2005-2006), the amount of time that Sarah spent receiving special education instruction increased to 830 minutes per week, which is approximately 48.8% of the week. AR 393. On April 20, 2006, Sarah's parents and representatives from the District met to develop an Individualized Education Program ("IEP") for Sarah's third grade year.2 AR 1293. At that meeting, the team agreed to increase Sarah's special education minutes to 900 minutes per week (or 53% of the time) for her third grade year. AR 393. At the end of Sarah's second grade year, Sarah's parents again declined the District's recommendation that Sarah enroll in ESY for the summer. Pl. Resp. Def. SOF ¶ 26. Instead, Sarah's special education teacher from the District tutored her once a week that summer. AR 2013, 2045.

On November 30, 2006, in the fall of Sarah's third grade year, Sarah's IEP team met to discuss the 3-year re-evaluation required by the IDEA. 20 U.S.C. § 1414(a)(2). As part of Sarah's 3-year re-evaluation, the school psychologist completed a comprehensive psychoeducational evaluation of Sarah to assess her cognitive abilities, processing skills, and emotional and behavioral functioning. AR 1008. At the November 30, 2006 meeting, Plaintiffs shared with the rest of the IEP team an independent evaluation of Sarah conducted by a dyslexia clinic. Def. Resp. to Pl. SOF ¶ 45. The IEP team decided to stop the meeting and reconvene on December 8, 2006 so that the District representatives could read the report. Id.; AR 468, AR 474. When the IEP team reconvened on December 8th, the District "rejected" the report. AR 474. Also on December 8, 2006, the IEP team decided to have Sarah evaluated by the District's assistive technology facilitator to determine whether she could benefit from additional assistive technology services. AR 471.

The IEP team met again on February 8, 2007 to review the assistive technology evaluation and to discuss the new computer programs that they were using with Sarah. AR 577. At this time, Sarah's special education minutes again were increased to 990 minutes per week. At the February meeting, Plaintiffs expressed their view that a private placement might be most appropriate for Sarah. AR 580, 588. After reviewing the placement options, the team concluded that placement at Pritchett was appropriate, and that a private placement would be too restrictive. AR 588.

On May 3, 2007, the team met to formulate an IEP for Sarah's fourth grade year. AR 667. The team again discussed Sarah's placement, and her parents' view that Sarah should be placed at a private day school. AR 647. The team could not agree on an appropriate placement for Sarah. AR 648. Plaintiffs dissented from the District's recommendation that Sarah be placed at Pritchett. AR 679.

Between third and fourth grade, Sarah was enrolled in a reading program at Hyde Park Day School ("HPDS"), a state-approved private school for children with learning disabilities. Def. Resp. Pl. SOF at ¶ 53. Unhappy with what they perceived as Sarah's lack of progress after three years of special education at Pritchett, on June 18, 2007, Sarah's parents unilaterally enrolled her at HPDS for the 2007-08 school year. Def. Resp. Pl. SOF at ¶ 56.

II. Procedural Background

In July 2007, Sarah's parents requested a due process hearing, as provided for in the IDEA, 20 U.S.C. § 1415(b)(2), claiming that the District had denied Sarah access to a free appropriate public education ("FAPE"), as required by the IDEA, and seeking reimbursement for their unilateral placement of Sarah at HPDS. At issue in the IDEA administrative hearing was Sarah's education during the 2005-06 and 2006-07 school years—her second and third grade years—and the proposed IEP for the 2007-08 school year. AR 1845.

Prior to the due process hearing, Sarah's parents filed a number of motions with the IHO, including a motion for leave to observe the classroom in which the District proposed to place Sarah for her fourth grade year, a motion requesting that the IHO recuse himself based on what Plaintiffs perceived as evidence of his lack of impartiality, and a motion to move the due process hearing to a location other than Pritchett, all of which the IHO denied. AR 3.

At the outset of the due process hearing, the IHO summarized the issues for consideration at the hearing as follows:

(1) whether the school district failed to provide Sarah with a reading program that enabled her to make meaningful progress per 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d), 34 C.F.R. § 300.320;

(2) whether the school district failed to provide Sarah with an appropriate IEP per 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d), 34 C.F.R. § 300.320, 34 C.F.R. § 300.324, I.A.C. 226.230;

(3) whether the school district failed to provide Sarah with an appropriate placement pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(5), 34 C.F.R. § 300.115;

(4) whether the school district failed to address all of Sarah's educational needs, which consists of language arts, math, executive functioning, and social/emotional needs, in addition to reading, pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d), 34 C.F.R. § 300.320; and

(5) whether the school district failed to adequately consider private evaluation tendered by Sarah's parents pursuant to 34 C.F.R. § 300.324.

AR at 1759-1760; see also AR 4. Following a three-day hearing, the IHO decided all of the issues in favor of the District and denied Plaintiffs' request for reimbursement. AR 12-15.

Plaintiffs filed a complaint in this case on December 13, 2007, appealing the IHO's decision and order.3 On March 20, 2008, Plaintiffs filed a Motion to Supplement the Administrative Record [28], which the District opposed. On August 12, 2008, the Court granted Plaintiffs leave only to supplement the administrative record [36] with respect to (1) FACTS documentation, (2) a PowerPoint presentation related to "inclusion" prepared by the District and published on its website, and (3) a December 2007 occupational therapy evaluation and a January 2008 progress report.4 On January 6, 2009, Plaintiffs' filed a motion for summary judgment. The District filed its cross motion for summary judgment on January 27, 2009.

III. Standard of Judicial Review

The traditional summary judgment standard set forth in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 does not apply to cases arising under the IDEA. Evanston Cmty. Consol. Sch. Dist. No. 65 v. Michael M., 356 F.3d 798, 802 (7th Cir.2004). The IDEA provides that a court reviewing the outcome of a due process hearing "(i) shall receive the records of the administrative proceedings; (ii) shall hear additional evidence at the request of a party; and (iii) basing its decision on the preponderance of the evidence, shall grant such relief as the court determines appropriate." 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(C). Therefore, despite being faced with cross motions for summary judgment, this Court's decision must be based on the preponderance of the evidence, and not on whether there are any genuine issues of material fact. Todd v. Duneland School Corp., 299 F.3d 899, 904 (7th Cir.2002).

In IDEA cases, district courts are required to "give `due weight' to the results of the administrative decisions and should not substitute `their own notions of sound educational policy for those of the school authorities...

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